Group demands investigation on death of farmers’ rights advocate

A farmers’ support group called on law enforcement agencies to conduct a thorough investigation on the death of its former program coordinator who was surfaced more than a year after her abduction.

The Central Visayas Farmers’ Development Center (FARDEC) said Elena Tijamo ironically turned up dead on International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, August 30.

The victim was abducted by armed men at her home in Bantayan Island in Cebu province last June 13, 2020.

Tijamo’s captors contacted her Luzon-based relatives last Saturday, August 28, saying she was recuperating at a Mandaluyong hospital after an operation to remove her goiter.

The relatives however were later informed that she had died after the operation and that her remains were already brought to St. Peters’s funeral home in Quezon City.

Elena Tijamo. (FARDEC image)

Curiously, Tijamo’s hospital bills were already paid for by yet unidentified parties and were brought to the funeral home by a stranger who identified himself to St. Peter’s personnel as her nephew named Neil Reyes.

Tijamo’s family said they do not know anyone of that name.

The victim’s relatives have yet to take possession of Tijamo’s remains as she was registered under the name Ava Perez Reyes.

She was however positively identified by relatives based on photos provided by the funeral home.

Red-tagging victim

FARDEC said Tijamo joined the organization as their sustainable agriculture program coordinator in 2005 that had been the target of “incessant red-tagging by elements of the state.”

Red-tagging is the practice, mostly by government personnel or institutions, of publicly accusing individuals or groups as members or supporters of underground Communist groups.

In 2008, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Phillip Alston urged the Philippine military to stop the practice.

FARDEC said Tijamo’s abduction came after both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defence “baselessly” alleged FARDEC and 17 other church and non-government organizations as “communist terrorist groups” in a November 2019 Congressional briefing.

The group said they are a legal and legitimate, non-stock and non-profit organization founded in 1989 by religious and laypersons as a regional support mechanism for Cebu, Bohol and Negros Oriental farmers.

Prior to her abduction and enforced disappearance, Tijamo was actively involved in the establishment of a community radio station in Bantayan Island that was forced to suspend its trial broadcasts after several visits from local police.

Tijamo is one of 18 victims of enforced disappearances under the Rodrigo Duterte government, human rights group Karapatan said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)